back to article UK local govt body blasts misleading broadband speed ads

The representative body for 370 councils in Blighty has hit out at Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for advertising misleading broadband speeds, particularly in rural areas. Current rules allow providers to promote "up to X" download speeds if they can demonstrate that at least 10 per cent of their customers can achieve them …

  1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge


    And pigs might fly...

    As the US Telco market has amply deomostrated all those little extra charges are where they make the money.

    only £0.99/month for us to produce your bill and let you read it on the internet

    only £0.99/month for the box on the wall there you plug your phone into (does not matter if you paid for it yourself

    only £15.99/month for Caller ID

    only £5.99/month to let us block all those annoying PPI/MS Support/etc/etc/etc calls.

    and so it will go on no matter what OFCOM says.

    Unless OFCOM threatens to revoke their license nothing will change and they'll find new ways to gouge us each and every months.

    1. Bill M

      Re: Really?

      Never knew the US Telco market charges in £ ?

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: Really?

        "Never knew the US Telco market charges in £ ?"

        As long as a Pound is still worth more than an American Dollar, I wouldn't put it past them, the tricksy bastards!

        1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

          Re: Really?

          A few more weeks and it'll sort itself, is what you're saying then?

  2. Ashton Black

    Well I never...

    So I've been seeing this sort of article for years, but nothing ever substantial came from it. The big ISPs will still lie. At this point in my comment I would have, in the past, regale the other commentards with my shitty throughput stats. But I've signed up to a small ISP here in deepest Somerset called Wessex Internet which uses microwave to a fibre backbone. Now getting a solid 30Mb down and 10Mb up, with a static IP thrown in. It's been epic so far.

    To be fair, the local council did help, with a voucher to partially cover the installation cost. (Our village pooled them together to get Wessex to run their network to us.) So thanks to "Connecting Devon and Somerset". This cost about £10,000.

    As an aside, BT wanted £197,000 to do essentially the same.

    1. Ragarath

      Re: Well I never...

      I've just had Wessex installed too, down here in Dorset. Even though BT were supposed to have upgraded us 4 years ago to fibre.

      Given up waiting. Pay a little more but service so far has been excellent.

    2. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

      Re: Well I never...

      Both you & Ragarth have the same issue as me, the barware at BT simply abuse their monopoly position time & again.

      BT won't even commit to telling us if they are *going to decide to commit* to installing fibre around our way!

      Fortunately I have a plan, involving a real tall mast in a field, some directional antennas & a few data SIMs.

      It'll still be cheaper/faster/much lower latency than the satellite system we currently have.

    3. paulf

      Re: Well I never...

      Now that your village has had Wessex Internet installed, and proved the existence of demand, I can't help thinking BT will now suddenly decide to upgrade internet speeds in your village so it can quietly snuff out its competitor by tempting WI subscribers back to services over BT lines.

      I hope that doesn't happen - BT need a bit of competition.

  3. Red Bren

    Up to speed

    Perhaps providers should only be allowed to bill "up to" the advertised price in proportion to the service actually delivered?

    1. Tony Haines

      Re: Up to speed

      Um, yeah.

      It would be hard though to determine the proportion to bill, though. Speed probably varies and we can't take the supplier's word for it.

      I think the "up to" is the problem.

      Ban "up to"; allow "at least".

      Then a complainant can get a random spot check which can be pass/fail.

  4. Baldy50

    2 Mb!

    I'm on a DSL line and would give my back teeth and first born for 2 Mb compared to the shitty speed here and not in the backwoods in any way shape or form, BT's name should be changed to Bloody Terrible.

  5. Refugee from Windows

    Making it up as they go along

    All these headline speeds are not a lot of use to rural broadband users, in some cases if you can call it that. In doing farm IT work I'd be lucky to get 150k, usually it's a lot slower. The only advantage is that I can go for a coffee, walk the dogs, or indeed have a nap whilst waiting.

    A friend's farm has 5 miles of wet string between it and the exchange, the nearest village is 2 miles away but of course that's not where it is, and there is little chance of a green cabinet appearing to service a group of 4 farms. They've sprouted a 4G Yagi and a box, and it means they have a chance of doing anything on line, which the powers that be assume everyone can.

    I would suggest that OFCOM make them advertise the speed that 90% of their customers can achieve, otherwise it's like having a Ferrari in a 20 mph zone.

    1. Malcolm Hall

      Re: Making it up as they go along

      Think it was Ofcom that allowed the 10% figure after BT and TalkTalk lobbied (bribed?) them, Virgin on the other hand were happy with 90%.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge

        Re: Making it up as they go along

        It was the ASA actually. A slightly more irritating organisation than Ofcom :)

        1. Commswonk

          Re: Making it up as they go along

          It was the ASA actually

          Ah yes; the organisation that had Legal, Decent, Honest, and Truthful as a Mission Statement even before the concept of mission statements had entered infected corporate culture.

          Unfortunately the concept of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth seems to have been omitted either by accident or design; very handy for the ISP fraternity, and they have IMHO taken full advantage of that omission.

        2. BebopWeBop

          Re: Making it up as they go along

          It was the ASA actually. A slightly more irritating organisation than Ofcom :)

          Yes, ASA and I had a prolonged and ultimately useless discussion about their 'acceptable' definition of unlimited in terms of ISP user limits. An ignorant bunch of sods

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    government pledge

    "The government has pledged to give everybody the legal right to request a broadband connection capable of delivering a minimum download speed of 10Mbps by 2020, "

    Everyone has the legal right to request that now?

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: government pledge

      Request it, yes. But the CPs will still be entitled to charge for the extra costs involved.

    2. Bill M

      Re: government pledge

      I have requested it, had the request acknowledged but been advised they are not processing requests in my area and have no plans to do so.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: government pledge

        true, but you were still able to request it.

        Pledge fulfilled.

        (c) Sir Humphrey

  7. dcluley

    Upper and lower limits

    I can accept that rates will vary according to length of connection and local conditions; but the same applies to (eg) electricity supply. Is not the answer to insist on an advertised range in the same way that grid voltages have to be within specified limits?

    So instead of line rates being advertised as 'up to 24Mb/s' they should be advertised as (say) 'between 18 and 24 Mb/s' or 'between 0.5 and 2Mb/s' or whatever is demonstrably provable.

    1. Commswonk

      Re: Upper and lower limits

      So instead of line rates being advertised as 'up to 24Mb/s' they should be advertised as (say) 'between 18 and 24 Mb/s' or 'between 0.5 and 2Mb/s' or whatever is demonstrably provable.

      Indeed so, but at the same time the ASA doesn't appear to mind Up to 50% off Sale signs on shops, which if you think about it is equally misleading.

      Come to think of it it doesn't seem to object to signs in shop windows saying Closing Out Sale which if you think about it means absolutely bugger all.

  8. Anonymous Coward


    Top 10% average = Speed A

    Bottom 10% average = Speed B

    Overall Average = Speed C

    This has to be done for each area covered by a particular exchange.

    Oh and upload speed averages as well please.

  9. Juan Inamillion


    In small rural areas wouldn't a mesh wifi network be an answer. Directional antenna from the point where there's the best (fastest) speed, pointing to the next node and on etc?

    Not really my field but surely could be a cost effective and easy way of improving speeds.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Mesh?

      Been tried. We had a repeater on our shed (highest point for miles). But it's expensive in capital costs, unreliable in practice and needs critical mass of subscribers, so the provider we used went bust.

      1. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: Mesh?

        In fact El Reg reported their demise -

    2. Warm Braw

      Re: Mesh?

      It can be done, if you have the right topography and the location of key nodes is somewhere that power is available and building/land owners want to take part - and you don't end up serving thousands of houses from one VDSL connection. If there are telegraph or electricity poles in the area it would usually be much less effort just to sling up some fibre - unfortunately the system does not incentivise the simple option.

  10. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

    Broadcast vs unicast

    They're expecting broadcast adverts to show speeds specifically for each individual who receives the advertising.

    They can either: give completely personalised ads (not on TV/radio/newspaper/billboards/etc)

    Or: remove the speed promise (just advertise the underlying technology)

  11. AndrueC Silver badge

    It's a misunderstanding over the ambiguous term 'up to'

    It is not being used in the sense of: You will be able to drive your car at speeds of up to 200mph.

    It is being used in the sense of: Your car is capable of being driven at up to 200mph.

    The former statement is unlikely for the vast majority of us (good luck finding an opportunity to do that on your daily commute) and any car salesman claiming that is on thin ice. But the latter statement is entirely reasonable. Even if you don't have a driving license and leave the car parked in your garage the statement is still true.

    The problem stems from marketing mis-use of the term and customer optimism. The same techniques that snake-oil sellers have used for ages. The trick is simply never to buy anything purely on the basis of marketing material. There's nothing particularly difficult to understand about why DSL is line dependant and all ISPs have to offer an estimate at sign-up.

    The 10% solution suggested by the ASA just further confuses the issue in my opinion. The fact that 10% of an ISP's customers get the headline speed means nothing because it is still not considering my particular circumstances. All it's saying is that 10% of an ISP's customers happen to have a good quality line. Whether or not I can get those speeds is purely down to the quality of my line, not anyone else'.

    The only time it can matter is if an ISP is cherry picking the lines it accepts but they don't. Most DSL based ISPs have no control over the line quality (KCOM is the only exception) so connection speed will be the same no matter which ISP I go with. Now the ASA or Ofcom could choose to impose rules based on network capacity by forcing ISPs to publish figures for peak time slow down. That at least is under ISP control and is a useful differentiator. Sadly they don't do that (but Thinkbroadband does.

    So customers are left with a pointless ASA rule and no practical way to influence the performance of their telephone line.

  12. chris 17 Silver badge

    what a load of Cack

    if your on A/VDSL your connection speed will be the same regardless of operator so only need to check BT's checker to see

    if your on VM that'll be a standard speed across the nation as their cabs are very close to the customers homes.

    Same with any FTTP/H

    leaving out Wireless BB, There are only a possible 4 types of connection to peoples homes & people will be told what speed they can get when they apply.

    i do not see what all the fuss is about.

    for every connection other than FTTP/H, the distance from the cab/exchange will impact the speed of the service.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: what a load of Cack

      if your on A/VDSL your connection speed will be the same regardless of operator so only need to check BT's checker to see

      Err no! The BT DSL speed checker can only give results for those lines attached to the BT LLU, if you phone is attached to another LLU such as Sky, TalkTalk or Vodafone then it is unable to give a speed reading. Whilst the BT DSL availability checker can take a phone number and post code, it only uses these to make a calculated guess as to what the connection speed might be.

      1. Myvekk

        Re: what a load of Cack

        Is that a custom BT version of ?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Next up: We have BT's Obfuscated, Bamboozled 'upto' Ultrafast Broadband speeds.

    Here in the UK, we have ended up in a situation, employing a whole army of Ofcom regulatory pen pushers to work out what subscribers might get 'upto', rather than a whole army laying true fibre optic cables, which mean none of those pen pushers are needed. So much time and energy is wasted trying to work out 'upto' BT FTTC/ADSL copper based broadband speeds.

    BT needs to start (likely forced) to connect subscribers/homes more than 500m by cable length (250m as the crow flies) to real Fibre Optic cables now (starting with a long term end of life replacment programme copper -> FO + all new housing developments/builds) if BT is to remain robust/relevant to possible regulatory changes in the pipeline aka 'even-equal distribution' across all parts of its network for any future ultrafast rollouts, to meet Britain's future needs.

    250m by cable length is probably the 'sweet spot', regards via legacy copper/alu v true Fibre Optic rollout costs, but BT needs to start somewhere, so 500m by cable length allows for some technology improvement in (given BT have become biased/love struck on via legacy copper/alu as their solution to supplying Britain with 'upto'* Ultrafast Broadband, remember this is in no way 'blanket Ultrafast' coverage BT are proposing, its 'cherry picking' obfuscated/bamboozled 'upto' Ultrafast Broadband speeds.

    *important bit

    Even if BT is obsessed with using technology for certain parts of its rollout. At >500m (I'd be nearer >250m mark) by cable length there is little question true fibre optic technology is the only real reliable way (all factors-speed, reliability, weather, TCO/maintenance) to achieve blanket ultrafast coverage, without obfuscated bamboozling 'upto' Broadband speeds for everyone, with no real way to work out what a subscriber might expect day to day.

    BT have a generation/Brand problem too, because more and more people will begin understand the underlying technical reasons why their obfuscated/bamboozled 'upto' Ultrafast Broadband really isn't 'blanket coverage' FTTC 80Mbps/ 300Mbps because of the underlying 'upto' technology that was chosen. BT (and regulator Ofcom) will be resented for it, more and more going forward, for choosing 'cheap'. The Brand will suffer (more than it already does).

    BT can't keep sprouting that is the solution for the complete BT network, you can't keep penalising certain subscribers / 'cherry picking' the easy to install ones due to where they live (both urban and rural - through no fault of their own) because biased BT thinking and legacy copper cabling means its voiced as 'difficult-expensive' to provide a high speed services to those customers.

    Fibre optic technology is been rolled out elsewhere in the World without all the fuss BT seem to sprout (so there is no excuse for BT going forward) to remove the distance 'upto' element to these 'difficult-expensive ' (as BT loves to describe them) subscribers.

    If BT chooses now to base its future on, then its laying itself open to be fined for failing to meet future rising USO (Universal service obligation) going forward.

    BT either wants homes more than 500m from the FTTC/'Exchange' as subscribers or they don't and if they don't, these 'difficult' subscribers and oversighting local authorities shouldn't be held to ransom by the incumbent sitting on its hands with bamboozling/obfustcated proposals of 'upto' Ultrafast broadbands speeds via legacy copper, that just don't work at these distances, for these subscribers, predominately in rural locations/Market 1 exchanges.

    The regulator needs to force 'even distribution' irrespective of the difficulty of supplying any future technology upgrades to longer lines, can't be seen to again, to cherry-pick 10m subscribers closest to the FTTC Cabinet, just so the regulator Ofcom/BT can say "look we have 10m 'upto' ultrafast connections".

    Even distribution across all parts of the network, in all localities is just as important today, going forward for those new 10m ultrafast connections.

    In the future, if BT want to upgrade 2/3rds of its subscribers to Ultrafast Broadband Ofcom/Openreach rule changes should mean that these 2/3rds need to be distributed evenly across the UK and across all areas of its network, not just the easy upgrades by replacing line cards in exisiting FTTC cabinets, to facilitate subscribers nearest the cabinet, but customers more than 500m from an FTTC too.

    (See the Thinkbroadband article:

    on the rollout of to 10m subscribers and look at the current UK distribution model, using the likely unimaginative BT 'bog standard' line card replacement model in existing FTTC cabinets).

    Crucially under this proposal offers existing Notspots, lines more than 500m by cable length absolutely nothing, (and very little to those 250m-500m from the existing FTTC cabinet)

  14. Dave Bell

    Is raw speed everything?

    One of the things I used to see is the "contention ratio".

    It's not mentioned any more. Internet use has maybe changed, from just web pages, which can more more-or-less intermittent, towards streaming video.

    The advertised speed is about what the connection to the exchange can physically deliver. How the ISP can deliver data to the exchange matters too.

    Maybe it matters how much data per person can get to the customer, I am not sure that the upgrade from basic ADSL would make all that much difference to me. What I see suggests that the next step to the internet is my real limit. Performance suffers when the kids are home from school, for everyone in the village, whether that have anyone else in the house or not.

    I am apparently getting worse ping times to the USA than I was getting via a dial-up modem. There's only so much an ISP can do about the speed of light. Yet one site I connect to, purportedly providing me with an international service, warns me that my ping time is too long. Their physical servers are in Arizona, and I suspect that;s a little bit too far from their head office in San Francisco for their own staff to get the recommended ping time.

    I don't think any single number is useful, it can be a bit complicated for adverts, which assume a somewhat less intelligent audience (They're legalised con games.), and too many things keep changing.

    (I have mised feelings about your reference to farmers. The government expects farmers to have internet connections to do business, and then does sod all to make their systems usable with slow internet connections. How would you feel if you couldn't fill in your tex return because your internet is too slow? Do you want HMRC breathing down your nexk like a rabid werewolf?)

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: Is raw speed everything?

      One of the things I used to see is the "contention ratio".

      It's not mentioned any more.

      That's because it's no-longer useful. Rate adaptive services weakened the concept and I think the wide range of bandwidth usage across users and exchanges makes it unhelpful.

      Instead what CPs do is rely on triggers. They upgrade network links as/if/when they get close to capacity. It's still possible to calculate contention ratios but you have to specify a context. And the wider the context the less useful it is. The contention at an exchange might be interesting to know. But the national average contention ratio only has curiosity value. It's of no use in planning. It would be like Tesco trying to use a national contention ratio to decide how much milk each store should get delivered to it (0.35 litres per person for instance).

      But network capacity planning is a funny thing. Very complex. It's amazing how high a contention ratio can go before anyone starts complaining. VM are probably experts at doing that in the UK. Usage patterns are a huge factor. Providing 1Gb/s to a thousand users who want to watch IPTV is easier than providing 100Mb/s to a thousand users who want to download stuff all day. It's all about the traffic - is it bursty or constant. Constant traffic is the difficult thing to handle. But interestingly something that's constant can become bursty if you raise the speed. IPTV is the best example of that. For a 5Mb/s connection IPTV is constant and a pain to deal with. But on a 50Mb/s connection it's bursty and far easier to cater for.

      AAISP have a good article on it.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A related issue...

    Many of us do benefit from good broadband speeds (I'm on Virgin cable at 150Mbps) and it's easy to forget there are still folk on 0.1% of that - and that's what some web designers do. I recently saw a single web-page that weighed in at 10MB, even on government target speed of 10Mbps that's going to be too slow loading (about 8 seconds, stats indicate users don't like to wait more than 2 secs and start to look for alternatives).

    So as a web site owner can increase your effective audience by keeping page weight low.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The need for speed

    I'd like to see a simple rule for anyone providing Broadband that any uplift in top end speeds - upload or download has to accompanied by a corresponding up tick in bottom end speeds.

    If your top speed offering is 300Mbps download then the lowest speed has to be at least 5% of this for all users or you are not allowed to offer the higher speed service. This force a USO improvement with each uplift. If this cannot be achieved due to congestion the for example the top end is also throttled to maintain parity

    Its completely impractical of course but would be an interesting suggestion

  17. McBiter

    I'm a rural user.Despite being about 2 miles from the box we used to achieve acceptable speeds of around 4Mb BUT in the last couple of years the speed has deteriorated and of late, with regular drop outs lasting 2-3 minutes.I suspect this is due to inadequate capacity of some piece of kit along the way and the increased number of users added of the same period.

    I understand the need to make a return on an investment; I understand the resources needed to develop the network but what I do not understand is the timidity of the regulator and the bared faced lies uttered by the main provider, Outreach.

    10 years ago it might have been possible to underestimate the future needs of the population in terms of electronic connectivity but the evidence of miscalculation is now so profound that it will hinder future productivity. This continued self approbation by BT and it's sidekick, OpenReach, demonstrates monopolistic disdain yet again.

    Some honesty in their accepting earlier assessment of demand was inadequate allied to measurable ( and not by their own 'up to' standards) targets might defuse the significant distrust currently displayed.

    And a regulator with some balls!

  18. redbarnman

    So here I am sitting on my 3.8MB/s connection (just 5 miles from BT's research Centre) at 15.06 and I feel reasonably happy. But come 9pm tonight I will probably get well under 1MB/s as people load up the system with movies etc. What matters to me is consistent performance over the 24 hour day - no good if the 'up to 10MB/s' refers to 05.00 and for the rest of the time and at weekends the speed drops right off. So I know my connection is capable of 4 to 5MB/s but the ISP is unable to cope with throughput on its servers/connectivity in the evenings so that is not a BT issue it's an ISP issue. A minimum performance guarantee at 21.00 is what we need not a maximum headline value which is no more reliable than car MPG figures..

  19. HAL-9000


    The way I see it, the basic problem is with the infractructure monolopy of that unwholesome duo openreach and BT (aka Bunch'a'Tossers). Lately there have been <a= href"">rumblings<"/a"> about this unsatisfactory state of affairs, and I think it's safe to say that until this problem is addressed then those broadband delivery targets are just that: targets.

    PS I harbour a tin foil hatter theory that our broad band speeds are being deliberatley held back, and are being limited by the speed at which GCHQ can hoover up all our communications, I presume BT service a dirty great cable into and out of Cheltenham. So in theory Cheltenham should have bloody good broad band speeds ;) Answer: move to Cheltenham

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like